Fourteen Questions on Nuclear Proliferation

At Energy from Thorium, Dr. Per Peterson, Professor and former chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, co-chair of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Generation IV Proliferation Resistance and Physical Protection Working Group, invested a good bit of personal time to discuss nuclear proliferation issues and anti-proliferation solutions. I found prof. Peterson’s formulation of five categories of threats very useful:

We need to disaggregate the term “proliferation resistance” into more specific categories of performance issues/threats, and then answer each of these questions. The Generation IV Proliferation Resistance and Physical Protection Working Group (I’m a co-chair) have focused on five general categories of threats:

Proliferation threats:

1) Concealed diversion or production of nuclear material in a declared facility. The primary approach to risk reduction involves the application of effective IAEA safeguards. Knowing where materials are is valuable from the perspectives of safety, reliability, and physical protection, so designing a system to facilitate the application of IAEA safeguards is a great idea in any case.

2) Production of material in clandestine facilities. Here the primary methods for risk reduction involve restricting access to sensitive technologies that are difficult to detect when replicated in a clandestine facility (particularly enrichment), application of effective export controls to detect attempts to acquire dual-use technologies, state-level assessments by the IAEA, and effective use of national technical means and intelligence efforts.

3) Breakout. Here the primary methods for risk reduction involve minimizing the attractiveness of materials used in the system, and sustaining a system of positive and negative security assurances (commonly multilateral or bilateral) that reduce the incentives and security concerns that might lead to breakout.

Physical security threats:

4) Theft of nuclear material for use in nuclear explosives. Here the primary risk reduction involves minimizing the attractiveness of materials used in the system, handling them in areas with very low accessibility (e.g., in hot cells), applying effective physical protection measures to the facility, and having the capacity to respond to and mitigate the consequences if theft does occur (not likely to be Gen IV reactors, but instead attractive legacy materials handled in current systems).

5) Radiological sabotage. Here the primary risk involves power reactors, and the primary risk reduction comes from adopting simpified and passive safety systems for reactivity control and decay heat removal, hardening the vital equipment that performs these safety functions, providing defense in depth with backup from active systems, and providing effective physical protection measures for facilities.

“Proliferation Resistance” is a highly ambiguous term, that allows all sorts of expensive, deterministic, prescriptive requirements to be invoked for future nuclear energy systems. As soon as “Proliferation Resistance” is broken down into these 5 categories of security threats, it becomes much easier to discuss specific and effective approaches to assure that the risks posed by these security threats can be made very low.

As an initial exercise, I’d recommend amending this set of 14 questions to focus on a single one of these PR&PP threats. I’ll post a reference set of questions.

Then for the first category of clandestine diversion or production Peterson offers his own reference set of fourteen questions.

Here is a set of questions, for the security threat that is created by the possibility that a State might attempt to clanestinely divert or produce nuclear material using a declared facility, that is being monitored by IAEA safeguards. The general purpose of IAEA safeguards is to provide a sufficiently high probability of timely detection to deter a State from attempting to divert or produce material clandestinely in a declared facility.

1. Can effective IAEA safeguards be effectively implemented through alteration of commercial nuclear technology to increase the probability of timely detection of diversion or misuse?

2. Should domestic manufactured and sold nuclear technology be modified to facilitate the application of more effective IAEA safeguards?

3. Should measures to improve the effectiveness of IAEA safeguards to monitor for the location and status of nuclear materials be built in to domestic nuclear technology even if it increases energy costs?

4. Should effective IAEA safeguards be built into domestic nuclear technology if it is considered cost effective?

5. What should be the standard for IAEA safeguards cost effectiveness for domestic nuclear technology?

6. What justification could there be for deliberately building in extra effectiveness for IAEA safeguards monitoring of the location and status of nuclear materials into domestically manufactured and used nuclear technology?

7. Should all nuclear technology offered for foreign sales be required to be subjected to IAEA safeguards?

8, Should nuclear technology offered for foreign sales to foreign nuclear powers be built to be compatible with the application of effective IAEA safeguards?

9. Should nuclear technology offered foreign sales to nuclear capable states deemed responsible be designed and built without concern to proliferation potential be built to facilitate the application of effective IAEA safeguards?

10. Should nuclear technology offered for foreign sales to potential proliferators or possible proliferators be built with particularly effective IAEA safeguards?

11. Should nuclear technology offered for foreign sales to potential proliferators or possible proliferators be built with particularly effective IAEA safeguards deemed cost effective?

12. Would building in particularly effective IAEA safeguards into nuclear technology sold to potential proliferators or possible proliferators be an effective means of preventing proliferation [actually, in this case the specific threat of concealed diversion or misuse].

13. Should IAEA safeguards monitoring efforts mostly focus on policy or technology?

14, How would you justify the last choice?

It was actually interesting to rephrase these questions for the first basic category of security threats outlined in my previous post (concealed diversion or misuse from a declared facility).

It would be very interesting and insightful to see these questions re-phrased for the other four categories of threats.

I highly recommend a careful read of the entire discussion. This is about as “inside baseball” perspective you will find on IAEA thinking.